The biggest question facing the Cleveland Cavaliers as the start of the regular season approaches was whether or not the front office would agree to a deal with free agent guard J.R. Smith. Smith may not be a star, but he was certainly a solid perimeter contributor for the Cavs as they won their first NBA title last spring. Friday night, Smith and his family announced that not only has he agreed to a new deal to return to the Cavs but they’re also expecting their second child.
According to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal, Smith’s contract is worth $57 million over four years. Smith made $5 million in the final year of his deal last season, his first full year in Cleveland after he and Iman Shumpert were traded by the Knicks in January 2015. The trade occurred at a time when Smith needed a change in scenery, and joining the likes of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving has rejuvenated Smith’s career.
This is the second consecutive year in which Cleveland went down to the wire in re-signing a member of their rotation, with forward Tristan Thompson being part of a lengthy contract negotiation in 2015. Thompson eventually agreed to a five-year deal worth $82 million.
Smith’s signing gives Cleveland 13 guaranteed contracts, and the team was already in luxury tax territory before this transaction. That contract count includes retired guard Mo Williams, who is owed $2.2 million for the 2016-17 season. Smith’s return removes one possible spot for the players on non-guaranteed deals looking to make the 15-man opening night roster, but head coach Tyronn Lue welcomes back a player who has shown himself to be a dependable supplementary option during his time in Cleveland.
How Smith’s Return Helps Cleveland
Smith’s been a more efficient offensive player since arriving in Cleveland, posting offensive ratings of 113 in 2014-15 and 110 last season. While there were still some moments when Smith would take a questionable shot, more often than not Smith was a catch and shoot option working off of James and Kyrie Irving as they looked to make things happen off the dribble. Last season Smith made 77 starts during the regular season, averaging 12.4 points per game in just over 30 minutes played per contest. He shot 40 percent from three in 2015-16, his best percentage since the 2007-07 season with the Denver Nuggets.
Smith was also a key contributor defensively during the Cavaliers’ playoff run, helping Cleveland account for some of the issues Irving can run into on that end of the floor. Smith spent time guarding the likes of Reggie Jackson (Pistons), Jeff Teague (Hawks), Kyle Lowry (Raptors) and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (Warriors) during the playoffs, and he performed well. With Smith missing most of the preseason he may not be in a starting role when the season begins, but he’ll get plenty of minutes as the season wears on.
Smith’s Deal Averages $14.25 Million Per Season
According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the first three years of Smith’s new contract are fully guaranteed for a total of $45 million. If Smith isn’t waived by the Cavaliers shortly after the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, the fourth year of the deal will be fully guaranteed as well. Smith is due to make $12.81 million this season, and according to Stein’s report a late push by Philadelphia is what led to Cleveland moving to get Smith re-signed.